Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hugging or Making a Bow or Shaking Hands?

(Nanako Ota)

One of my experiences of culture shock when I came to the U.S. for the first time was how people hug for a greeting. I honestly felt shocked when my male middle-aged adviser hugged me even though we have not introduced each other yet. Because in Japan, we usually make a bow when meeting a person, and sometimes shake hands but not always. Making a bow is important in our culture that it shows a respect (technically speaking, we have three different degrees of how much you tilt your upper body: 15, 30, and 45 degrees), and my friends in the U.S. mock me because I ‘shake’ my head busily even when talking on the phone.

After living in the U.S. more than four years, I came to hug people for a greeting.
My friends in Japan seem a little confused when I hug them, but they generously accept ‘Americanized Nana’ anyways. Here at RTC, when meeting my roommates on the first day in my room, I wanted to run to them, hug them, and say, ‘’Nice to meet you!” I found myself opening my arms widely to get ready for a hug ceremony, but I noticed that my roommates holding their mug cups and did not move. So I told myself, “Oh, maybe not.” Then I suddenly switched my mode from American to Japanese, and softly said, “Nice to meet you…” while making a bow.

Bhutanese culture of greeting is interesting. In a formal occasion (when people greet kings, or when students receive a certificate on the stage), Bhutanese people make a deep bow and put their arms low as if they were saying they have nothing to harm you. On campus, I see students (not everyone) make a bow to their professors. When I was in Japanese middle school and high school, I needed to make a bow to the older students, even if it was only one-year difference (it was THE hierarchy society). The students here do not seem to do that, although they put asim (sister) and acho (brother) for calling the older students (ex. acho Kinley = brother Kinley).

In town, I found it so interesting how my Bhutanese male friends actually stop in the middle of the road, and shake their male friends’ hands to greet. Their hand shaking is not a subtle thing; they do it with their both hands while looking into each other’s eyes. I cannot really describe well, but when observing it, I really feel warmth, respect, and caring between the friends. They often ask each other “Gate mo?/ Where are you going?” and sometimes have a long conversation after that. On the other hand, Bhutanese girls do not shake their hands but call their friend’s name loudly, or just tap on the friend’s shoulder.

After living in Bhutan for more than three months, I do know that hugging is not the culture here, but I still do it when I feel like hugging Bhutanese people who are precious to me. And I love how they (especially my roommates) come to try to hug me back now, even though they must feel a little awkward. It is just amazing that a hug, which used to be foreign to me, can connect us mentally here in Bhutan.  

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